In a bizarre turn of events, free agent pitcher Aaron Sele signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Seattle Mariners yesterday, three days after the Baltimore Orioles offered him a deal twice as long and worth almost twice as much money, only to withdraw it after a physical examination raised questions for the Orioles about the soundness of Sele's arm.
However, Sele underwent a physical examination yesterday for the Mariners, and Mariners General Manager Pat Gillick said his team is satisfied with Sele's health.
"I'm not aware of exactly the concerns were with Baltimore," said Gillick, a former Orioles general manager. "There were some differences of opinion there. . . . But we don't have any concerns whatsoever. Our medical people were satisfied that Sele was as healthy as he was when he finished the season with the Rangers."
Although the Orioles continued to try to negotiate a shorter deal with Sele through yesterday afternoon, Sele's agent, Adam Katz, called the Mariners yesterday and re-opened talks with Gillick. By 5 p.m. Seattle time, a deal had been struck.
Last month, Sele rejected a three-year offer from the Mariners worth more in total but less annually. Sele was 18-9 with a 4.79 earned run average for Texas last season. Added to the earlier acquisitions of John Olerud, Arthur Rhodes and Mark McLemore, he makes the Mariners serious contenders.
While the loss of Sele leaves the Orioles without a fifth starter only five weeks before spring training, Gillick gloated over the good fortune of having Sele fall into his lap thanks in part to the indecision of his former employers.
"This is a business where timing is very important," he said. "You only have a small window. You have to react very quickly. Those who hesitate, as they say, are lost. . . . This was like a star falling out of the sky."
Calls were not returned yesterday by Orioles vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift, executive vice president John Angelos or majority owner Peter Angelos.
While the Orioles go back to searching for a starting pitcher, the market has all but dried up. Among the most attractive starters still available are right-hander Steve Trachsel, who lost 18 games for the Cubs in 1999, and left-hander Darren Oliver.
The Orioles saw Sele as the second-most attractive free agent pitcher in a relatively weak market this winter, behind lefty Chuck Finley, who took a three-year, $27 million deal with Cleveland. Among the other starting pitchers who already have signed are Juan Guzman, Andy Benes, Omar Olivares and Kenny Rogers.
Sele's deal with the Orioles, which would have made him the highest-paid pitcher in team history, was agreed upon Friday, pending the results of his physical. The deal was concrete enough that the proper papers were filed with the Major League Baseball Players Association, according to a baseball source.
Sele, who was in Baltimore on Friday for the physical, was asked to stay for a news conference that evening. The Orioles' public relations staff was put on standby for an announcement.
The deal was put on hold, however, after team physician Michael Jacobs, who performed the physical, informed Angelos that there was some question about Sele's arm. Attempts over the weekend by the Orioles to gather further medical information about Sele were unsuccessful.
Sele, 29, has not had arm problems since a bout of tendinitis in 1995 and 1996 and has never had arm surgery. He has made 33 starts and has thrown at least 200 innings in each of the last two seasons.
Gillick said with a pitcher of Sele's age "there is going to be normal wear and tear on an elbow or a rotator cuff. So you really have to rely on your medical people. They know which bumps along the road you have to look out for and which ones you can work through."
One of Sele's representatives, Tom Reich, would not address questions about Sele's physical exam in Baltimore, saying only that no deal is official until the club "signs off on the physical," adding that Sele is "in good shape."
Despite the difference in opinion over what the physical exam turned up, Reich characterized the dealings with the Orioles as "very cordial" and it does not appear Sele will file a grievance with the players' union.
The Orioles held off announcing the Sele deal on Friday, in part, because of what happened a year ago with free agent reliever Xavier Hernandez, whose physical examination turned up a slight tear in his rotator cuff. The Orioles, who already had placed Hernandez on their 40-man roster, were forced to retreat, and a grievance filed by Hernandez led to a $1.75 million settlement for him.